The £2.9m Flexible Plastic Fund FlexCollect project is the most extensive pilot for household collection and recycling of flexible plastic packaging ever undertaken in the UK.
FPF FlexCollect has launched today and is working with a number of volunteer local authorities to implement a series of innovative flexible plastic packaging household collection and recycling pilots that will run through to 2025.
The Flexible Plastic Fund (FPF) project will provide a unique opportunity for government, local authorities, packaging producers and the waste industry to build vital understanding of how to incorporate flexibles into existing collections across different geographies, demographics and collection formats.
The pilot is co-funded by the Flexible Plastic Fund, Defra, UKRI’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge (SSPP) and Zero Waste Scotland, with participating local authorities financially supported to roll out and operate pilot kerbside collections over the three-year project.
The pilot is being managed by a consortium comprising the project co-funders, Ecosurety, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, RECOUP and WRAP. A cross-section of industry stakeholders including LARAC, NAWDO, CIWM and ESA will also be involved to ensure the views of all parts of the value chain involved in the collection and recycling of this material are considered.
The project will build an evidence base, share learning and develop best practices and also provide key insights into the operational issues, yields and recyclability of flexible packaging, effective communications with residents and the costs of incorporating it into the UK’s current recycling collection systems.
Overcoming a considerable challenge
Recycling flexible plastic is a considerable challenge as it represented 22% of all UK consumer plastic packaging in 2020, but according to the RECOUP Household Plastics Collection Survey 2021, only 8% was recycled.
To help improve this, last month government announced the introduction of recyclable plastic film and flexible packaging collections for households across the UK by March 2027, as part of their response to the Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging consultation.
FPF FlexCollect will run for three years in two stages. An initial ‘Pioneer Stage’ will involve pilots at four local authorities, with a further five local authorities joining them for an ‘Industrialisation Stage’ six months later, building on the knowledge gained during the first stage.
Cheltenham Borough Council is the first local authority to join the Pioneer stage, with the other local authorities currently being recruited. Participating local authorities are set to benefit from cross-industry expertise and financial support that will run-up to the implementation of packaging Extended Producer Responsibility and consistent recycling collections legislation, easing their transition. These early adopters will also be able to meet increasing consumer demand for better recycling provision, with an enhanced service that will improve their performance.
Crucially, the data and insights provided by FPF FlexCollect will be published to help support local authorities introduce new collections, as well as stimulate the development of end markets and domestic reprocessing infrastructure. It is also fully aligned with the WRAP-led UK Plastics Pact ‘Roadmap 2025: Creating a circular economy for flexible plastic packaging’.
Deepen and accelerate understanding of the flexible plastics recycling chain
Gareth Morton, Discovery Manager at Ecosurety and FPF FlexCollect project lead for the Flexible Plastic Fund commented "Alongside our work on front of store collections with retailers and recyclers, FPF FlexCollect will enable us to deepen and accelerate understanding of the flexible plastics recycling chain and its complexities through the lens of kerbside collections. It is a great opportunity for our members to get really involved and help to make flexible plastics recycling a reality quicker."
Commenting on the initiative, Resources and Waste Minister Jo Churchill said "Plastic films and flexible packaging make up a huge proportion of our waste and we all want to see more of this material recycled. Our plans to introduce consistency in recycling and encourage more recyclable packaging through extended producer responsibility will significantly reduce the amount of plastic polluting our natural environment. This innovative project will provide valuable evidence to support our proposals to roll out nationwide collections of plastic film from all households and businesses."
Cathy Cook, Chair of LARAC commented "LARAC enthusiastically supports the FPF FlexCollect project. We took a position in our responses to the consultations for the Resources & Waste Strategy that we were not convinced that collections of flexibles were practical or environmentally beneficial given the lack of processing infrastructure in the UK to ensure they were genuinely recycled."
"This project will provide the best information for our members on the challenges and solutions to collecting flexibles at the kerbside, so we wholeheartedly support it and urge our member councils to consider being part of it."
The Flexible Plastic Fund is a collaborative fund giving value to flexible plastic films so they are properly recycled. Managed by market-leading producer responsibility compliance scheme Ecosurety and supported by environmental charity Hubbub, the Fund was established in May 2021 by five founding partners: Mars UK, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever.
Partners of the Fund now also include Abel & Cole, Ella’s Kitchen, The Collective, Kiddylicious, Koninklijke Douwe Egberts, KP Snacks, McCain Foods, Tilda, United Biscuits, Vitaflo, Yeo Valley Farms, Lotus Bakeries, Natural Balance Foods, Ocado Retail and Warp Snacks. In collaboration with manufacturers, retailers and recyclers, the Fund intends to improve flexible plastic recycling and reduce plastic pollution by giving the material a stable value. This will in turn increase the supply of recycled plastic for the industry to become more ‘circular’.
This will motivate investment in much needed jobs and infrastructure to make flexible plastic recycling a financially sustainable system in the UK. Through supporting the Flexible Plastic Fund, partners will contribute to system-wide progress driving towards household collection of this valuable material and ultimately closing the loop on flexible plastic production.
Find out more: www.flexibleplasticfund.org.uk
Marketing projects specialist
Ben joined the team at the beginning of 2015 and helps drive marketing communications and projects for Ecosurety, including project managing the launch of the Ecosurety Exploration Fund and website content development.